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A new open-access physics journal enters the fold

9 November 2016

Extra Dimensions: The free, online-only Quantum has an impressive roster of editors and engagement from the community. But does it have a place in the competitive science publishing landscape?

Extra Dimensions, by Andrew Grant

Earlier this year, three quantum physicists shared via email and video calls their frustrations about academic publishing and peer review. Now the three—Lídia del Rio, Christian Gogolin, and Marcus Huber—along with dozens of contributors are preparing the launch of a new free, open-access online journal.

Quantum is not the first venture attempting to break from the traditional science publishing model. Like Discrete Analysis and the Open Journal of Astrophysics, Quantum is an arXiv overlay journal, which publishes or links to the final arXiv version of papers that have passed peer review by the journal’s editors. But with more than 4500 quantum papers posted to the arXiv last year, the field is much larger than the one covered by Discrete Analysisand Quantum has a much larger editing staff than its astro-focused cousin. The new journal, which will begin accepting submissions later this month, could be a fascinating test case as to the future of science publishing in the preprint server era.

The hardest work for the staff of Quantum lies ahead, but they’re off to a good start. Eager to let the quantum community dictate the direction of the journal, the founding trio of del Rio, Gogolin, and Huber appointed a 12-member steering board. Half the board members are women, in addition to del Rio serving on the journal’s executive board. Over the summer the steering committee issued an open call for editors and chose an accomplished group of 40 from 136 applicants.

Encouraging community input, for all its benefits, has also led to sharply diverging views regarding what kind of journal Quantum should be. In a recent discussion hosted at reddit, journal editors and outside scientists debated whether Quantum should strive for selectivity or for the publication of solid, technically correct research. One commenter questioned how the journal would survive with “no quality threshold beyond correctness and honesty”; another argued that judging for significance is “total garbage” because “significance is inherently a judgement of history.”

More than 4500 quantum physics papers were published on arXiv last year, suggesting a large supply of potential submissions to Quantum. Credit:

More than 4500 quantum physics papers were published on arXiv last year, suggesting a large supply of potential submissions to Quantum. Credit:

Del Rio says the most important thing is “trying to set some core values of our journal.” She says that Quantum will be geared toward the quantum science community rather than try to appeal to a broader audience. Editors will encourage the publication of negative results and discourage authors from overselling their findings. Of course, that’s easy to say until it’s your result that’s about to get published. Many study authors benefit from the wider target audience, print distribution, and media promotion that come with publishing in a traditional high-impact journal.

That’s just one of the concerns that the staffs of Quantum and similar journals face as they challenge decades of science-publishing orthodoxy. Although the expenses pale in comparison with those of print journals, the Quantum team will have to spend $10 per submission on the publishing platform and fees for services such as assigning DOIs. So far the journal is funded for the first 200 submissions, del Rio says. Further funding must come from a combination of donations and the suggested publication fee of €100; there is no mandatory fee for authors. Quantum also relies on the continued success of arXiv, which faces funding challenges of its own. And if Quantum does raise its profile in the coming months, it’s unclear how the volunteer editing staff will cope with a barrage of submissions.

Despite the obstacles facing any new science publication, let alone a free, open-access one, Quantum is worth monitoring because of the thought that has gone into it and the engagement of the quantum physics community. Even if the journal doesn’t succeed, its mere existence may amplify important questions regarding how journals can best serve the scientists who contribute, review, and consume the material.

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